Major League Soccer's list of 55 invitees to the annual pre-draft combine, released last week, provides an early glimpse at some college seniors whose names we'll be hearing more of over the next month as the MLS SuperDraft approaches.
For the Philadelphia Union, more than half of the players on the list, which will undoubtedly change before the draft, will be gone by the time they get their first pick all the way at No. 31 in the second round. Unlike last year when the Union had four of the first 30 picks and ended up being the first team to select a goalkeeper as the first pick, the expectations will not be so high.
The team's total haul from last year was eight players and only two remain on the roster - goalkeeper Andre Blake and center back Richie Marquez. Barring trades, the Union will have three picks in the draft - No. 51 and No. 72 being the others - to be held on January 15 in Philadelphia.
With that in mind, the list includes invitees so standout players like UCLA's German-born midfield maestro Leo Stolz, who may elect not to play in MLS, could further thin the talent pool by withdrawing from draft consideration altogether.
Also not included on the list is the as of yet unsigned Generation Adidas class, which might include the likes of Georgetown centerback Joshua Yaro, Connecticut forward Cyle Larin, Washington midfielder Christian Roldan, North Carolina's Omar Holness, Syracuse keeper Alex Bono, Delaware forward Guillermo Delgado or any other standout underclassmen not eligible to sign a Homegrown Player Contract (see Stanford super sophomore Jordan Morris, Washington forward Darwin Jones or Georgetown forward Brandon Allen for examples of standout MLS Academy players).
Scanning the list, the first set of players to scratch off is the four goalkeepers - Woodbury, N.J. native Tyler Miller among them - since that's one area of strength and depth for the team.
Looking at defensive position players, the stud of the bunch is UMBC's Oumar Ballo, but he'll be picked long before the Union's name gets called, especially after showcasing his talents on the national stage with UMBC's improbable run to the College Cup.
Creighton's Jose Ribas played left back at PPL Park in the recent Big East tournament, but the Ecuadorian who also plays midfield will likely not still be left on the board at 31. Ditto for North Carolina's Boyd Owuonu, Akron's Saad Abdul-Salaam and Jamaican defender Sergio Campbell, who has been a commanding presence at center back for UConn the past three seasons with his 6-4, 192 pound frame.
Syracuse defender Skyler Thomas is another intriguing prospect off the back line. The Canadian was a key piece - along with combine snub Jordan Murrell - in a team that conceded only twelve goals all year playing in the mighty ACC.
Moving to midfield, there are few collegians with the ability to strike a ball as well as UConn's Adria Beso Marco.Harrison Shipp showed this season for the Chicago Fire that diminutive players with free kick expertise can in fact succeed in MLS, but he and Matt Besler's little brother Nick Besler will likely go in the first round.
Providence midfielder Fabio Machado's stock has risen with Providence's Big East tournament win and run to the College Cup. Local product Manolo Sanchez, a standout for Clemson who has played for Reading, would make sense if he's available in the later rounds and Virginia midfielder Eric Bird should be familiar by now to Union staff as many times as he's combined with Union Academy alum Darius Madison (who will likely sign either this year or next as an HGP). Maryland midfield skipper Dan Metzger, who has experience playing for the United States Under-18 team and the New York Red Bulls Academy, is another midfielder whose name stands out on the list.
As forwards go, St. Louis's Robert Kristo will be a high pick based on his size and ability to score goals and Andy Craven has shown an incredible knack for scoring goals this year that could make him the fifth year senior pickup of the draft as center back Steve Birnbaum was last year. Cal State Northridge's Sagi Lev-Ari dropped off the radar this season a bit but is still a prospect who should attract plenty of interest.
James Rogers was part of that dynamic New Mexico team (along with midfielder Oniel Fisher) that made it all the way to the College Cup when it was at PPL Park last year and has played for the U.S. Under-20 team so he might be worth taking a look at to provide much needed depth at the forward position if he's still left on the board. Michigan State's Adam Montague and UNLV's Salvador Bernal are also forward prospects who might turn a few heads at the combine.
The combine will be held from January 8-13 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Union will be hosting a college combine of its own on December 16-17 for players who have either been invited or paid a $180 registration fee to get a chance to work out in front of Union personnel.